The family of Oron Shaul, an IDF soldier who, Israel determined, was killed in action during last summer’s war in the Gaza Strip, on Thursday called on the government and military to change his status to “missing in action.”
Shaul’s mother, Zehava, told Channel 10 in an interview that as far as she was concerned, the matter “isn’t closed.”
Israel determined that Oron Shaul was killed during summer 2014’s 50-day military campaign, Operation Protective Edge, against Hamas in Gaza. His body, as well as that of soldier Hadar Goldin, has not been recovered and Israel has classified both soldiers as “killed in action.”
Hamas on Sunday morning released a letter it claimed was penned by Oron Shaul, pleading for his freedom. The letter was widely dismissed in Israel as a cynical hoax by the terror group.
“It isn’t closed, there are gaps,” Zehava said in the interview, which is to be screened in full on Friday. She said that as long as there is the smallest possibility her son is alive, she will hold on to hope.
“If it’s not 100 percent, I’m holding on [to the hope that he’s alive]. My heart tells me he’s alive,” she said.
Earlier this week, Shaul told the press that the family was “in a state of complete uncertainty” concerning Oron’s condition and called on the government to work to return her son as quickly as possible.
Speaking in the wake of publication of the chilling letter, Shaul’s mother demanded physical evidence that her son was still alive. She promised that if such proof was provided, the family would “turn the country and the world upside down” in order to bring him home.
The letter was a purported emotional appeal by Oron Shaul to his bereaved parents begging for his release, and represented an apparent attempt by Hamas to leverage the family’s hope that he is still alive into negotiating a prisoner exchange.
Hamas sources told The Times of Israel on Sunday evening that it was willing to reveal information about soldiers Shaul and Goldin if Israel released some of its operatives currently being held in prison.
Seven Israel Defense Forces soldiers were killed on July 20, 2014, when their armored personnel carrier was struck by an anti-tank missile in Gaza City. Shaul had been driving the APC at the time. The army was able to recover the remains of only six soldiers. But based on forensic evidence, the IDF concluded that Shaul had also been killed.
Zehava Shaul demanded Sunday that Hamas provide proof of life before the family begin to act. “Ismail Haniyeh, I turn to you again. I want to believe you,” she said in remarks addressed to the Hamas former Gaza prime minister. “Give us concrete evidence on Oron’s actual condition. The moment we have proof, I promise you that we will turn the country — and the world — upside down to make sure the deal actually happens,” she said during a press conference at the family home in the northern town of Poriya.
In its response to the letter, by contrast, the Goldin family called on Israel to take tough measures against Hamas over the capture of the soldiers’ bodies.
“The Shaul family and we, the family of Hadar Goldin, have been waiting for a year and a half for our sons to be returned home, and Hamas is now psychologically manipulating us in order to break our spirit. The time has come for the country to not give in to the patterns of the past, to present an attack position to Hamas and set the price that Hamas will have to pay for kidnapping our soldiers,” the Goldin family said.
“The State of Israel cannot give any gesture — humanitarian or otherwise — to the people of Gaza until Hadar and Oron are returned,” the Goldins added.
Hamas, in its message, would neither confirm, nor deny, that Shaul and Goldin were still alive.
“Hamas will hold a negotiation and transfer information on the destinies of the Israelis only after Israel releases prisoners from the Shalit deal who were re-arrested after the kidnapping of the teenagers,” the organization said, referring to the more than 1,000 terrorists who were released from Israeli prisons in order to secure the 2011 release of Gilad Shalit, who was kidnapped in 2006. In the years following, many of those terrorists were arrested again for violating the terms of their release. Others were rearrested in late spring 2014, as Israel sought the Hamas terrorists who murdered three Israeli teenagers.
At her press conference, Zehava Shaul also called on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government to do more to retrieve her son and Goldin.
“Now I demand of my country: Bring back my son. Bring Oron back home, together with Hadar Goldin, as quickly as possible,” she said.
“Despite all the efforts that were made and weren’t made, we have not yet seen any results and our son has not returned home. We don’t leave wounded soldiers behind, and also not the deceased. The responsibility is on you — the government and the army — to return our sons home. We demand action,” continued Zehava Shaul.
Although both Shaul and Goldin were pronounced dead by the IDF, the letter to Shaul’s parents was written as if he were still alive, begging them to work for his release.
“My dearest mother, I hear it raining all around me but I cannot see or hear it. I keep waiting for happy news that will bring me back to you,” the letter to Zehava and Simha Shaul began.
“I want to be freed from captivity, and though I don’t deny I have been treated gently, I fear you have forgotten me, which fills my heart with much sadness and despair.”
Calling the Shaul family pawns in a “political gambit” by the Israeli government, the letter emphasized the slow progress of efforts to return him.
“The army promised us that we would return to our homes and families safely, but they left me here and have not done anything to bring me home,” it said.
“Mom, Dad, I beg you to please take action on my behalf,” the letter concluded.
Last month, Hamas political leader Khaled Mashaal reportedly demanded the release of dozens of Palestinian prisoners — including Marwan Barghouti and Ahmad Saadat — in exchange for the bodies of Goldin and Shaul.
Barghouti, accused of being a major mastermind of the Second Intifada, is serving five life sentences after an Israeli court found him guilty in 2004 on multiple murder counts. Saadat was arrested and imprisoned for his involvement in the 2001 assassination of Israeli minister Rehavam Ze’evi.
Israel has, on several occasions, freed prisoners in exchange for the remains of its servicemen. However, Jerusalem has never negotiated directly with Hamas.
Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.